Rockford, Illinois


Jackson Elementary School

In 2005 there was a newspaper article in the Rockford Register Star that announced that three Rockford elementary schools were facing closure due to poor student performance. A friend, Debbie Rheingans, saw the article and brought it to Saul Serna, ‘the coach’, and said, “These kids need your help to improve their grades so their schools won’t close!” Always willing to help the children when he can, Saul visited the Superintendent of the Rockford School District 205, the schools, and the principals and presented his Just Bee Children’s Coaching Program and how it might change the fate of the troubled schools.

With little to lose, the principals were intrigued by the prospect and all three agreed to participate... Jackson, Nelson, and Swan Hillman Elementary Schools.

The teachers were immediately engaged and were very excited to see the response of their second grade classes …one student at a time… one parent at a time, and after twelve weeks, they were celebrating the first part of the transformation they were about to witness. All the schools and students did a good job with the program, but Jackson Elementary School, its principal, teachers, and students played full out, and the transformation was beyond impressive... the energy and enthusiasm that was created permeated the whole school! As the program expanded, it was realized that quality is more important than quantity, and with only a few volunteers and limited funds, it was decided to put the major energy and focus into Jackson School.

During that first summer, Ms. Julia Johnson and Mrs. Sue Hollander, the Jackson Elementary School second grade teachers, assisted Saul in evaluating the results and compiling a complete Just Bee Teacher’s Guide, which incorporated the second graders’ current curriculum into the Just Bee character building lessons.

Saul and his team continued the program, seeing more and more progress in the students, the teachers, and the parents and siblings of the participating students each year, but the physical condition of the school and the classrooms made learning more difficult than it needed to be. How could the children do their best work in this rundown, cluttered environment? So in 2008, the decision was made to do something really special for the kids... a big surprise!!

Thus, the idea of the Extreme Classroom Makeover was born with Jan Mansfield, Saul’s wife, taking the lead in the physical transformation of the two second grade classrooms and the hallway that connected them. During Easter break a group of volunteers from her real estate company, Nextage Professionals Realty invested 720 hours and thousands of dollars to make the classrooms become ‘a magical place’ for teaching and learning. Please see the extreme classroom makeover videos on the website.

As the program evolved, they started coaching the fifth graders (the original Just Bee second graders), teaching them how to mentor the new second graders. The interaction was magical, and the results were extraordinary. Mentoring and helping the second graders cemented the Just Bee values for the fifth graders and made them all even stronger.

As a reward, the Just Bee foundation and Nextage Professionals Realty created an amazing holiday dinner celebration at one of the nicest restaurants in the city and invited all the students and their families to attend. With gift bags for all the kids, live piano music, local politicians and celebrities in attendance, and a professional photographer to memorialize the event, the children were in awe.

Two boys and two girls were chosen to say a few words at the celebration, and to make it especially memorable for them and ensure that they felt proud about their appearance on stage, Saul took the boys shopping and bought them suits, ties, shoes, and all the trimmings, and Jan took the girls for their first complete makeover. The results for all of them were stunning and helped to create a night that they for sure will never forget. Please see the photo album and video of the celebration on the website.

In 2011, due to the financial situation in Rockford and the whole country, many schools were chosen to close, and the Jackson building, being 107 years old, was one of the schools selected. Everyone was disappointed, but rather than complain and protest, under the leadership of Saul Serna and the principal, it was decided that Jackson School would become a model of how a school should behave in their final months of operation leading to an unavoidable closure. Saul and his great support team lead by Holly Armato, one of the fifth grade teachers, decided to coach the whole school to be great examples to all other students who find themselves in this situation. Rather than drag around and spend a lot of negative energy on something that they cannot change, they decided to make lemonade out of their lemons and be proud to be the FINAL students of Jackson Elementary School. They have developed JACKSON PRIDE…DEEP INSIDE, and with this slogan and their positive attitude they are presenting an image that is admired by the whole community.

We are honored and very proud to be part of the success of these children, their families and everyone involved. We can be the victims of our circumstances or masters of change... we have decided to be masters of change and to take this opportunity to teach the children how to deal with change, even embrace it and to always Bee Positive.

We look forward to continuing our work with the children and families in other schools in Rockford and following up with every student we have the privilege to coach… until they graduate from high school and beyond.

We need your help. We have developed three great coaches to assist the teachers and volunteers and are eager to continue the program to help more children and families in Rockford and beyond. If you want to contribute to this program, please go to the donate button on the Home Page, or if you can volunteer to help, please contact us. We truly appreciate your help and would love to keep you posted on our progress. Please register to receive our news letters .

Thank you for your interest and please let us know how we can improve. Share your great ideas and become a part of our Beehive Club, where everyone is passionately committed to making our world a sweet place to Just Bee.


Projects & Progress
Jackson school Makeover

The Just Bee Coaching Room
at Jackson Elementary

Jackson Elementary